Wednesday, January 29, 2014

I Chickened Out At The Vikings' Last Super Bowl

I'm sure my mother loved me when I was growing up; all mothers are supposed to love their kids and there wasn't any evidence otherwise — until Jan. 9, 1977. That was the day the Minnesota Vikings played the Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl XI (That's Super Bowl 11 for all us realists who don't fall for the logo hype that the contest now demands).

It was also the day my mother, the choir director for the church we attended back then, scheduled a concert. She also scheduled me, a gawky 17-year-old kid at the time who was just developing a serious sports addiction, to be an usher for the event. I had grown up in Minnesota and suffered through three prior Super Bowl losses by the Vikings. This game, I thought, would be different. Despite having never played for the Vikings, I, like other fans, referred to the team as “we,” as in “I'll be watching when we win this one.”

Instead, while others were sitting at home enjoying the game I was showing non-sports fans where to sit in the church.

To make matters worse, my parents — nay, my mother only. I'm sure my dad had nothing to do with this — bought me a hideous yellow sweater for Christmas two weeks earlier and bade me to wear it for the concert. The thing had tufts of furry yarn on it. Alas, I looked like a chicken. And since it was 1977, I had buckles on my dress shoes. It's a wonder the churchgoers didn't beat me up.

Since the football game began in the afternoon back then, I was able to watch the first half at home before being shuttled off to the church. Oakland built a 16-0 lead by then and I realized the Vikes were well on their way to losing a fourth Super Bowl. Still, however, I wanted to see the game in its entirety.

Instead, during the second half while Fran Tarkenton handed off the ball to Chuck Foreman, I handed programs to the poor souls who shuffled into the church for the show. My parents lived in an Arkansas retirement community at the time and a majority of the denizens probably remembered when the real Vikings first traveled by creaky wooden vessels to American from Norway and Scandinavia. They also liked my yellow furry sweater. I told them I looked like a chicken. They thought I was a cute whippersnapper.

I remember a fellow Minnesotan who moved to Arkansas enter the church at the last minute. He was an elderly sports fan and I'm not making this up, but he remembered seeing Babe Ruth play minor league baseball in St. Paul once. I looked at him with pleading eyes. It was unsaid, but he knew what I was seeking. Hope? A miracle? A couple of Minnesota touchdowns? I was in a church after all. I had the front row to the football prayer line.

He shook his head sadly, almost in the manner of a doctor solemnly acknowledging that, despite all he could do, the loved one didn't make it.

The Vikings died.

They lost to Oakland, 32-14. It was the last Super Bowl Minnesota has played in.

Super Bowl XLVIII (48) will be Sunday. Thirty-seven years after the Vikes' last championship game, and I still wait and hope for the team to return there. I still hate that I missed the second half of that game. Why, oh why, couldn't my mother have scheduled her concert a week later?

And, since this blog refers to the APBA sports replay game, here's the APBA connection. I have the 1976 football season for the game. It's the first APBA set I've ever owned. In fact, one of the first games I ever replayed was Minnesota vs. Oakland. Of course, the Vikings won the game.

Now, as I near the end of replaying the 1942 baseball season with APBA, I'm looking for a new project. Baseball is front-runner for the next replay, but I'm really debating about playing some with the 1979-80 NBA season I have. And now, as the Super Bowl nears, the idea has popped into my head to roll the dice and redo the Vikings' last Super Bowl game. If I can find, and fit into, that yellow chicken sweater, I may just do that.

Monday, January 20, 2014

I Ran

I did something Sunday I hadn't done in nearly 20 years.

I ran.

I actually took off running and for a while, before I feared having a heart attack and throwing up in front of everyone, I enjoyed it. For a brief moment I felt like the dog hanging his head out of a moving car window, catching the breeze I created and feeling a sensation I had not experienced for two decades.

Granted, running is not a big deal for most people. I have a friend on Facebook who posts he runs 12 miles before he brushes his teeth in the mornings. Others may jog and I'd wager a majority of people could easily run if a bear, zombie, ex-wife came a-chasin'. But I'm not that way.

I, alas, am a fatass. I am 53, grossly overweight and have the knees of a 95-year-old. When my wife passed away, I gave up and didn't care about my own health. My doctor told me when I was 48 that I wouldn't make it to 50 if I didn't quit drinking those sugar-laced energy drinks. I was pounding about four a day. It took a lot of energy to haul my fat self around.

I have a newspaper job that keeps me pretty sedimentary. Exercise? Well, I type a lot. I probably have the strongest fingers around. But the rest of me is as fit as a hunk of cookie dough. My hobbies — reading and playing APBA games — require a lot of sitting. Eating potato chips and other snacks is part of both activities, as well.

In August, I began walking with a girl who works in the same building as I. I did it because I liked her, not because I had a sudden epiphany that I cared how I turned out. She asked me to go with her only to serve as a “bodyguard.” The trail we walk at is in a city park that features some secluded areas she was apprehensive about walking alone.

But as we made the 2.8-mile loop around the park, a transformation happened. I began caring and I took it seriously and I walked with purpose for myself, a direction I was unfamiliar with. I began losing weight and I watched what I ate. I told my walking partner that I was overweight, not simply because I was cramming the wrong food into my mouth, but because I had some psychological issues. Self-destruction? Fear? Anger? Bitterness? Loneliness? Lots of thoughts. I leaned toward potato chips as a comfort food. Her psychological response? “Don't eat chips, dumbass.”

It worked and now, five months after we began walking, I've lost 64 pounds as of today.

And I ran.

We ran about 50 feet along a gravel path the first time and I quit, not because I was tired but because I was afraid someone would see me. It was an odd feeling moving that fast for me; I thought I probably looked like those blubbery polar bears you see on the Discover Channel suddenly darting from a feigned sleep to nab an unsuspecting walrus.

We ran again on a parking lot. This time I opened it up and passed my friend, mocking her on the fly. But as we neared the end of the lot, I slowed down and she flew by me. I feared I'd throw up the fizzy tea drink I had and a guy chucking up his drink in front of a woman ain't pretty.

We continued walking the loop and when we finished that afternoon I had reached 200 miles of walking since we began this in August.

Again, I know the brief run I did was nothing in 95 percent of the world's opinion, but to me, for that brief flash, I felt like a kid again running with the wind and moving faster than I have in 20 years.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Seasonal Dilemma

It's a dilemma I face each time I near the completion of an APBA baseball season replay. What should the next project be? What is the next season that I'll throw myself into entirely, committing a year or more of my time to replaying each game and logging some stats.

It's quite an undertaking and you have to be dedicated to the game in order to see it through. It's also why each time when I'm about a month or so from being finished with a replay, my thoughts turn ahead.

For most of the time that I've been rolling the 1942 season, I've planned upon doing 1991 next. I missed playing games with the Minnesota Twins while doing this season, and 1991 is the year they defeated the Atlanta Braves in the real World Series. I did 1987 before and, despite Minnesota taking that Series as well in real life, in my game Kansas City played St. Louis.

I usually jump from era to era when doing replays so I can get a feel for a particular style or genre. I went with 1942 this time since I've never done a replay of any season in the 1940s and the game, with Stan Musial, Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams has been enjoyable. It followed my replay of 1981.

A change is always welcomed. And there are factors that can help precipitate a replay decision. For example, in all the replays I've done, I've never rolled an at bat for Pittsburgh Pirates' outfielder Ralph Kiner. I have the seasons of 1950 and 1954 in which he played.

I also have never played a season in the 1900s or 1910s. I own 1901 and 1906, along with the 1919 season I bought last year.

I think I've narrowed it down to three possibilities for the next replay. Here they are:

Pros: The fact that I can play games for the Minnesota Twins is the major point in favor of doing this year. I watched that season closely while it developed; I enrolled at Texas Tech University in Lubbock in the fall that year to pursue a doctorate degree in English. I bluffed my way into the program and when I realized I was in way over my head and should have stuck with journalism, I quit college and returned to Arkansas. But, it was during the World Series and, because the Twins are an important part of my existence, I coordinated my dropping out of college to coincide with a travel day of the team. I was able to drop my classes, reassign two teaching positions I had, fill out whatever paperwork they shoved at me, turn in my stuff and drive 16 hours home between Games 2 and 3. Sure, I was a college dropout, but I was smart enough to not miss a single pitch.

Cons: It's really tough getting excited about rolling some games late in the season among teams that aren't really that good. I foresee slow times when, replaying August contests, Cleveland and California clash. Houston vs. Montreal isn't that mouth-watering either.

Pros: I like the 1950s era a lot. And Ralph Kiner played in 1950. There were fewer teams, and each team played 154 games in the season. I could knock out this replay in about 10 months.

Cons: It may be too close to 1942 and lots of the players would overlap. I wouldn't learn much new by doing this season.

Pros: Ty Cobb, the Chicago White Sox, Rogers Hornsby, Babe Ruth still with the Red Sox, not too many home runs. I read Al Stump's book “Cobb” last year and it was enough to motivate me to call the APBA company and buy the 1919 season.

Cons: There may be a lot of fielding errors in this season. I played 1925 long ago and, by midseason, actually rerolled dice whenever an error came up in a situation because there were so many. Also, I know very few of the players from that era.

The debate continues. I didn't include 1954, which features Henry Aaron, Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays. I omitted 1969, which was the first season I really obsessed over as a fan when I was young. I have the 1979 season that includes the We Are Family Pittsburgh Pirates World Series team. And I have those really early seasons of 1901 and 1906 that would show me the roots and origins of the game.

Lots to think of. Lots of decisions, and not a lot of time. Any suggestions are welcomed.

And, to really throw this all askew, I haven't even considered yet whether I should instead replay a hockey or basketball season with the APBA games that I own for those sports.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Update: Sept. 4, 1942

With a little over three weeks remaining in my 1942 baseball replay with APBA, the American League pennant race is pretty much locked in. The National League, though, is still up for grabs as St. Louis and Brooklyn battle it out.

The Dodgers are two games behind the Cardinals as of Sept. 4, 1942. The two teams will play a two-game set in Brooklyn on Sept. 11 and 12; the games loom on the horizon like an approaching gleeful holiday or, pending the outcome if your team loses, a scheduled balloon payment on a house note. This is one of the many reasons why APBA is amazing.

The Yankees have gone on a 45-17 winning tear, stretching a one-game lead they had of the St. Louis Browns on June 30, 1942, to their current 9.5-game cushion. Boston has played well lately as well. They've gone 43-24 since June 30, but barring mishap, i.e. Joe DiMaggio and Joe Keller quitting the team, for instance, the Yanks will make the World Series, just as they did in the real 1942 season.

Here are the standings at the end of the day on Sept. 4, 1942:

                       W   L  GB
New York       89 43    –
St. Louis         80 53   9.5
Boston            80 57   11.5
Cleveland       68 66   22
Detroit            65 70   25.5
Chicago          52 79   36.5
Washington    52 80   37
Philadelphia   50 88   42

                        W  L  GB
St. Louis         91 42   –
Brooklyn         88 43  2
New York       70 64   21.5
Cincinnati       67 67  24.5
Chicago           65 71  27.5
Pittsburgh        61 73  30.5
Boston             56 82  37.5
Philadelphia    36 92  52.5

A few observations: Ted Williams continues to knock the cover off the ball. He's hit 38 home runs so far. I've found a phenomenon occurs during replays — there's always one player who defies the statistical logic of their card produced by APBA. For those unaccustomed, APBA issues cards for players during a particular season, basing their number formulas on the results produced during the actual season. Replayers roll dice, corresponding the rolls to those numbers on the baseball players' cards to determine outcomes. Ted Williams had a great season in 1942. In real life, he hit 36 home runs. In my replay, it seems whenever he comes to bat there's a good chance the dice roll will result in a homer.

I had this happen with Harmon Killebrew in my 1964 replay, Gil Hodges in 1957 and Greg Vaughn in 1998 to name a few. They all hit more dingers in the replays than they did in the actual season and when each came to bat, I'd expect and even feel a home run was coming.

On the inverse, the Chicago White Sox have clubbed only 19 home runs this season in my replay — Williams has hit twice as many as the Slight Sox alone. True to APBA form, though, in 1942, the real Sox trotted the bases only 25 times.

The saddest tale of the year belongs to Tiger pitcher Hal Newhouser. He' received an “AX” rating on his card, meaning he's one of the better pitchers with a higher-than-average amount of strikeouts. But rather than sporting a great record, Newhouser is 7-14 so far. When he pitches, it seems Detroit does not give him run support. In fact, in a recent loss, Newhouser held Cleveland hitless in 8.1 innings, only to lose, 1-0, when Oris Hockett dribbled a single and scoring Oscar Grimes, who had reached base on a walk.

In the National League, Brooklyn's Dolph Camilli leads the league with 31 home runs. Pitcher Curt Davis is 18-1 for the Dodgers. Tiny Bonham of the Yankees holds the same won-lost record. Coincidentally, both Davis' and Bonham's lone loss of the season came in St. Louis. The Cardinals beat Davis and the Browns edged Bonham.

The Philadelphia Phillies have the worst pitching staff I've ever seen. Three of their starters have only one victory each this year. Lefty Hoerst (rhymes with “worst”) is 1-11. Cy Blanton, sigh, is 1-8, and Ike Pearson has one win with his seven loses. Had ABPA issued cards for managers, I'm sure Phillies skipper Hans Lobert would have a lot of his hair pulled out by now.

Mort Cooper of the Cardinals leads the National League with a 22-5 record and he's thrown two no-hitters. If the league issued Cy Young awards back then, Cooper would be a shoo-in to receive it. And Johnny Vander Meer, he of the back-to-back no-hitters during the real 1938 season, has one of his own in my 1942 replay. He's also thrown 15 strikeouts in two games this year.

I began playing this replay on April 14, 2013, which was the same day in 1942 that the season actually started. I should wrap this one up in mid February and then, like all the game replayers do, I look ahead for the next adventure the APBA cards will bring.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

APBA New Year Resolutions

What would New Year's Day be without making resolutions that, invariably, end up broken within a few weeks.

We all make the same ones annually as if the turning of a calendar page exonerates the sins of our previous years and hits the reset button of life. The ritualistic pledges to lose weight, stop smoking, be kinder and cut the cursing are popular and righteous, but they are also far-fetched. It's hard to bust habits that have been going on for lifetimes.

It's also hard to view Jan. 1 as a new beginning, a chance to redeem oneself and take charge of his or her new life while glued to the television watching the plethora of football games. We should get a pass for New Year's Day and start the promising stuff on Jan. 2.

With all that in mind, I offer my APBA New Year Resolutions. Obviously, losing weight is atop the list. I do that every year. I also resolve to quit smoking. Since I've never smoked in my life, I think I'll be able to maintain that one.

These resolutions are more sports-based, and shouldn't life be that way?

So, here are is the 2014 version of my APBA resolutions.
  1. Play more games. That's a given for everyone who plays the APBA sports games. We have scores of seasons to replay, but not enough time. I'm not advocating quitting a job or forsaking eating, bathing or socializing to garner more time for the games. I resolve to just pick up a few more games a day instead of lazing around in front of the television, or staring into space, or zoning out, or just wasting time.
  1. Diversify. For the past 15 years, I've mainly played the APBA baseball games. I began this great hobby with the football game and then a year later I began my obsession with the old basketball game. I picked up hockey in 1993 and played that constantly for the ensuing five years. It's time to bring out those other games again. I really want to roll a few basketball games again to recreate what I loved as a kid.
  1. Maybe, just maybe, do stats on my next replay. I know, readers of this blog will be stunned. I've done stats before, but each time my computer has crashed. I'm not techno savvy enough to save statistical work on backup drives or Google sites. I may end up doing pen to paper stats. I know it sounds old time, but so be it. If I can find my slide rule and bread loaf-sized Texas Instruments calculator, I may just do stats on my next replay.
  1. Convince my editor at the newspaper where I work to get into APBA. He's considered doing it a couple of years ago, but has yet to make up his mind. He's a huge baseball fan and I know he'd like playing the game. But, two years to decide upon a game? Sheesh, I'd hate to see him debate over buying a car or a house. It'd take decades. I have never met anyone in person before who plays APBA. Might be nice to get another Arkansan involved in the game.
  1. Buy another season of baseball. I have card sets for each decade, but I have a few gaps between years. For example, the only season set I have for the 1940s decade is 1942. The next year I own is 1950. Maybe I could buy 1947, the first year Jackie Robinson played, to bridge that gap. I also have a space between 1932 and 1942. The 1938 set, with Lou Gehrig, Hank Greenberg and his 58 home runs, Jimmie Foxx and the rest would be fun.
  1. Play a season with Ralph Kiner. In all the years I've done APBA baseball replays, I've never rolled an at bat for Pirates, Cubs and Indians outfielder and first baseman Kiner. His career stretched between 1946 and 1954. I've played the 1957 season and am on the 1942 season. I own 1950 and 1954 seasons, so it's possible to play a season with him in it. Of course, finding time and juggling the other seasons around may be an issue.
So there are some resolutions for the 2014. Will I keep them all? Probably not. But then keeping other resolutions aren't easy either. These will be much easier to keep than losing weight or stopping smoking.